Louisiana Supreme Court - 400 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70130 | Tel: 504-310-2300 Hon. Bernette J. Johnson. Chief Justice.  John Tarlton Olivier., Clerk of Court.  Sandra A. Vujnovich. Judicial Administrator
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 FAQ - About the Court

 1.  What is the role of the Louisiana Supreme Court?
 2.  How many other courts are there in Louisiana?
 3.  How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
 4.  Who are the Supreme Court Justices?
 5.  How does someone become a Louisiana Supreme Court Justice?
 6.  What kinds of cases get to the Louisiana Supreme Court?
 7.  How does the Supreme Court decide which cases to hear?
 8.  Once the Supreme Court decides to hear a case, what happens?
 9.  Who can argue before the Louisiana Supreme Court?
 10.  What is a "Friend of the Court?"
 11.  How long can a person argue before the Supreme Court?
 12.  What happens after oral arguments?
 13.  Where can I find Louisiana Supreme Court decisions?
 14.  How many cases does the Supreme Court handle each year?
 15.  What is the difference between the U.S. Supreme Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court?
 16.  Has anyone from Louisiana ever served on the U.S. Supreme Court?

 

 

  1. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT?

The Louisiana Constitution distributes the powers of government of the State of Louisiana into three separate branches -- legislative, executive and judicial. Except as provided by the Constitution, no branch of government can exercise the power of another branch of government. This principle is commonly referred to as the constitutional "separation of powers."

The judicial power of the state, which is the power to interpret the Constitution and the laws of this state, is vested in the Judicial Branch of Government, made up of a supreme court, courts of appeal, district courts and other courts authorized by the Constitution. The Supreme Court is Louisiana's highest court and is domiciled in the City of New Orleans.

  2. HOW MANY OTHER COURTS ARE THERE IN LOUISIANA?

In the Louisiana court structure there are 5 courts of appeal, 43 district courts, 5 family or juvenile courts, 49 city courts and 3 parish courts.

Along with most other states, Louisiana has established the intermediate courts of appeal between the district courts and the supreme court. These courts guarantee the right to have almost any trial court decision reviewed by a higher court. Their appellate jurisdiction extends to virtually to all civil and criminal cases triable by a jury, except for those few case which are directly appealable to the Supreme Court.

The trial court of general jurisdiction in Louisiana is the district court. District courts generally have authority to handle all civil and criminal cases. Civil cases involve actions to enforce, correct or protect private rights. In general civil cases include all types of actions other than criminal proceedings. In a criminal proceeding a person is charged with a crime and brought to trial and either found guilty or not guilty. The purpose of a criminal case is to punish the person who violates criminal laws.

The juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over delinquency cases involving persons under 17 years of age, with the exception of some felony offenses for which 15 or 16 year olds can be bound over to the district courts. Juvenile courts also handle all adoption proceedings of children under the age of 17. Similarly, family courts have jurisdiction over all family matters ranging from delinquency proceedings to divorce and child custody proceedings.

The city courts are courts of record. This means that their decisions are reviewed on appeal on the record, as opposed to being tried anew in a higher court. City courts generally exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the district court in civil cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000. In criminal matters, they generally have jurisdiction over ordinance violations and misdemeanor violations of state law. City judges also handle a large number of traffic cases.

Louisiana's 3 parish courts are distinguishable from city courts only in that they are always staffed by full-time judges and their jurisdiction is a bit broader. Parish courts exercise jurisdiction in civil cases worth up to $10,000 and criminal cases punishable by fines of $1,000 or less, or imprisonment of six months or less. Cases are appealable from the parish courts directly to the courts of appeal.

A total of 380 judges preside over these Louisiana courts.

 

  3. HOW MANY JUSTICES ARE ON THE SUPREME COURT?

Under the Constitution of 1974, the Louisiana Supreme Court is composed of seven justices elected from districts throughout Louisiana.  In the year 2000, Supreme Court districts were reapportioned into seven new districts, with one justice elected from each of the districts.

The justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court serve 10 year terms of office. The senior justice in point of service is the Chief Justice, who is the chief administrative officer of the judicial system.

 

 4. WHO ARE THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES?

The current justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court are:

Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson - Seventh District

Justice Greg G. Guidry - First District

Justice Jeffrey P. Victory - Second District

Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll - Third District

Justice Marcus R. Clark - Fourth District

Justice Jefferson D. Hughes, III - Fifth District

and Justice John L. Weimer - Sixth District

 5. HOW DOES SOMEONE BECOME A LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE?

Judges in Louisiana are chosen by election.  As of January 1, 2008, to serve as a justice of the supreme court or a judge on a state court of appeal, a person must have been admitted to practice law in Louisiana for 10 years and been domiciled in the respective district, circuit or parish for one year preceding election.  Persons wanting to serve as a judge on a district court, family court, parish court or court having solely juvenile jurisdiction shall have been domiciled in the respective district, circuit or parish for one year preceding election and have been admitted to practice law in Louisiana for eight years.

Judges of city courts shall be licensed to practice law in the State of Louisiana for at least five years previous to their election, and qualified resident electors of the territorial jurisdiction of the court for at least two years prior to their election.

 

 6. WHAT KINDS OF CASES GET TO THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT?

 

"Jurisdiction" is the legal term given to the power and authority of a court to hear and decide certain judicial cases. Pursuant to the Louisiana Constitution, the Louisiana Supreme Court has several types of jurisdiction:

The Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction in cases involving disciplinary actions against lawyers and judges. Exclusive original jurisdiction means "jurisdiction in the first instance;" these cases cannot be heard by any other state court.

The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction in cases in which a law or ordinance has been declared unconstitutional and in capital cases where the death penalty has been imposed. These cases originate at the trial court level, but bypass review by the intermediate courts of appeal in order to be heard directly by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has supervisory jurisdiction over all courts. Cases from these courts reach the Supreme Court after they have already been heard by a lower court. The Supreme Court; however, does not automatically hear these cases. A party must first convince the Court in a special application that their case merits high court review because an error occurred in the opinion, judgment or ruling of the lower court. This procedure is known as "applying for writs."

 

 7. HOW DOES THE SUPREME COURT DECIDE WHICH CASES TO HEAR?

As stated earlier, the Louisiana Supreme Court must hear all cases involving disciplinary actions against lawyers and judges, all cases in which a law or ordinance has been declared unconstitutional, and all capital cases where the death penalty has been imposed.

All other cases, and these are those involving litigants who are not satisfied with the outcome of their cases in a lower court, are not heard unless the Supreme Court grants an application for writs to review the case. A majority of the justices must agree to hear the case.

Whether or not to grant writs rests within the sound discretion of the Supreme Court; however, one or more of the following five reasons are usually present if the Court decides to hear a case:

1. CONFLICTING DECISIONS: This means that the decision of the lower court conflicts with the decision of a court of appeal, a decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court or a decision of the United States Supreme Court on the same legal issue.

2. SIGNIFICANT UNRESOLVED ISSUES OF LAW: This means that the decision of the lower court involves a significant legal issue which should be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

3. OVERRULING OR MODIFICATION OF A CONTROLLING PRECEDENT: This means that the decision of the lower court is based on a prior ruling of the Louisiana Supreme Court which should be overruled or substantially modified.

4. ERRONEOUS INTERPRETATION OF A CONSTITUTION OR LAW: This means that the decision of the lower court erroneously interprets or applies the United States or Louisiana constitution or a state or federal law, and the decision will cause material injustice or significantly affect the public interest.

5. GROSS DEPARTURE FROM PROPER JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS: This means that the decision of the lower court has so far departed from proper judicial proceedings or so abused its powers as to call for an exercise of the Louisiana Supreme Court's supervisory authority.

 

 8. ONCE THE SUPREME COURT DECIDES TO HEAR A CASE, WHAT HAPPENS?

If a majority of the justices agree to grant writs, that is, agrees to review a case, the case is set on the Supreme Court's docket for full briefing and argument before the Court. The full record of the case is moved from the lower court and lodged with the clerk of court for the Louisiana Supreme Court. It is important to note that the Supreme Court's review is limited to the testimony and exhibits contained in the lower court record. No new evidence can be introduced in the Louisiana Supreme Court. There is no jury.

Before the case is heard by the Supreme Court, one justice is assigned the duty of writing the opinion of the Court. The opinion is not written, however, until after the case has been argued before the Court.

 

 9. WHO CAN ARGUE BEFORE THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT?

In the usual case, attorneys represent their clients in cases before the Louisiana Supreme Court. The attorneys for the clients on each side of the case are given a specific amount of time to state their reasons why the Supreme Court should or should not decide the case a certain way. Only the attorneys speak before the seven Supreme Court justices. There are no witnesses.

 10. WHAT IS A "FRIEND OF THE COURT?"

Although the attorneys representing the parties are usually the only persons who file written briefs and present arguments in that case before the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Court will sometimes allow a person not a party to the case an opportunity to also file a brief with the Court and present arguments at the hearing. These parties are called "amicus curiae," which means a "friend of the court." An amicus curiae privilege is granted only if:

1. the party making the request has an interest in another case having a similar question as that before the Louisiana Supreme Court;

2. the party making the request has knowledge of a fact or law that might otherwise escape the Court's attention; or

3. the party making the request has a substantial, legitimate interest that will likely be affected by the outcome of the case which will not be adequately protected by those already a party to the case.

 

 11. HOW LONG CAN A PERSON ARGUE BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT?

In lawyer discipline cases, each side is given 20 minutes for oral argument. In all criminal cases, except a death penalty case, each side is given 20 minutes for oral argument. In a death penalty case, each side is given 40 minutes for oral argument. In civil cases and in judge discipline cases, each side is given 30 minutes for oral argument.

Although each side must complete their presentation to the Court within the time limitations, an attorney can be interrupted by a question of any justice at any time during his or her remarks, with no additional time given.

LAWYER DISCIPLINE CASES 20 MINUTES PER SIDE

CRIMINAL CASES 20 MINUTES PER SIDE

DEATH PENALTY CASES 40 MINUTES PER SIDE

JUDGE DISCIPLINE CASES 30 MINUTES PER SIDE

CIVIL CASES 30 MINUTES PER SIDE

 

 12. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER ORAL ARGUMENTS?

Following oral arguments, the justice assigned to write the Court's decision in the case prepares a proposed written opinion and circulates it to the other six justices for their review and approval. If this opinion gets the approval of a majority of the justices, the opinion is considered as having been "passed" and becomes the official decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court. If, however, the proposed opinion does not get a majority vote of the justices, the opinion is reassigned to one of the other justices who must then write another proposed opinion. This process continues until such time as a majority of the justices will sign on, resulting in the official decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court. A decision is usually rendered by the Supreme Court approximately six weeks after oral argument.

 13. WHERE CAN I FIND LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT DECISIONS?

Supreme Court decisions are a matter of public record and are posted on the Supreme Court's Internet web site. [www.lasc.org ] These decisions are also published in print and electronic format and can be found in any law library.

 14. HOW MANY CASES DOES THE SUPREME COURT HANDLE EACH YEAR?

In 2012, 2,769 cases were filed, slightly down from 2,852 cases in 2011. The Supreme Court disposed of 3,181 cases in 2012, up about 9% from the 2,916 disposed of in 2011. In 2012, the clearance rate was 115%.

These numbers show that only a small fraction of the work of the Louisiana Supreme Court is reflected in its official opinions. Most of the Court's time is taken up with the high volume of questions put to the Court in the form of writ applications and direct appeals. These cases are handled in weekly conferences while the Court is in session.

 

 15. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT AND THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT?

The U.S. Supreme Court is a federal court while the Louisiana Supreme Court is a state court. The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in our country. It has the final word on all laws and on the Constitution itself. A chief justice and eight associate justices, all appointed by the president, serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

 16. HAS ANYONE FROM LOUISIANA EVER SERVED ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT?

Yes. Edward Douglass White, a former Louisiana Supreme Court justice, served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 27 years between 1894-1921. In 1910, at the age of 65, White was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court by President William Howard Taft.

 

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